It seems like every five years or so I end up on a river trip in the middle of nowhere, this time it was on the middle fork of the Salmon River in Idaho. As a kid growing up in Hawaii, rivers have always been pretty foreign to me, but since my first river trip in 2004, I have fallen in love with them. Rivers are challenging, scary and so much fun. I have always told people over the years that some of the best trips of my life were river trips. Going off of the grid for a week, camping in epic locations, stunning hikes, hot springs, wood fire-cooked food, campfire games, and good company—oh and did I mention no phone service or WiFi? That might just be the best part.
This was my first trip down the Middle Fork portion of the Salmon River. I have paddled the main Salmon river twice before and always dreamt of paddling the Middle Fork. The Middle Fork is known to be a bit rowdier, typically has more consistent white water, bigger white water, narrower sections, lots of hot springs, and deep canyons.
We rallied an epic crew of friends and family for the week, and they flew in from all parts of the country. Some had been on river trips and some had not. We met up in a little town called Stanley, Idaho, where we all loaded onto three separate bush planes. These planes took our group 30 minutes out into the middle of the wilderness. The plane ride was beautiful; we got to see a bunch of sections of the river we would soon be paddling. After a pretty bumpy 30 minutes, we landed on a small dirt airstrip. Our guides were waiting for us with all of the rafts, kayaks, oar boats, and gear we would need for the week. After getting acquainted with our five river guides, they gave us the general run down and safety briefing, and we were off on the adventure.
My goal for this trip was to paddle the entire 100 miles on my Body Glove Performer 11 stand-up paddleboard. The levels were pretty low this year, meaning the river was really shallow. We are in the middle of a bad drought year so most of the rivers in the Northwest have suffered from low water this summer. My only concern about the board was the fins. The Performer 11 fins are already pretty small and forgiving so I was hoping they would not snag on too many rocks as I was paddling. I was wrong. It was so shallow that every five minutes the bottom of my board would scrape. There were sections that were only six inches deep. Day one was really mellow as far as rapids go. We pulled up to our first camp in the evening and as soon as we got there, I took a mini saw to my fins and cut them off. I knew this would give me less tracking ability but it would at least stop me from hitting rocks and getting thrown off the front of the board.
We set up our tents and the guides cooked us fresh salmon over the fire. We played campfire games and passed out for our first night’s sleep under the stars. The next morning we were up at sunrise for coffee, cinnamon rolls, eggs, avocado, and fresh orange juice. Day two would be my first test on the board with the fins cut off. Within the first 5 minutes of paddling, I knew it had made a world of difference. For the rest of the trip, I did not snag onto a single rock, and this helped me make it through some tricky white water sections. The next few days would all look very similar: Wake up, eat, pack up camp, get on the river, paddle for about three hours, and stop on a beach for lunch where the guides would set up a big buffet meal. After lunch, we would get back on the river, paddle for an hour, stop for a soak in a hot spring, paddle again for an hour, stop for a hike to a petroglyph geographical site, then paddle until we reached camp in the evening. Each day the scenery changed, the canyons and river narrowed, and the rapids got bigger. The last day of the trip was full of big rapids. This was the day I was looking forward to the most. It seemed like the entire last day was all one big rapid with very few breaks of calm water between white water sections. The crew in the rafts and oar boats would go first, then I would stop and scout my line before going. I made it through every major rapid without falling or dropping to a knee. On the last rapid of the trip, I was coming out of the bottom side and hit a huge boulder with my paddle. The pressure of my body leaning on my carbon fiber paddle against the boulder snapped it clean in half. That paddle took a beating the entire trip and so did the board. The Performer 11 held up really well and got me to the end. I was surprised by how well the board did the entire time.
After a 100-mile river journey together we all made it to our destination near a small town called Salmon, Idaho. Our group was bused four hours back to where we started the trip and this was where we said our goodbyes. Another river trip in the books and so many new memories made. I am already planning the next one!